September 25, 2020
Anfesia Shapsnikoff (1901-1973) was an Unangax̂ cultural authority who spoke, read, and wrote the main dialects of her language, Unangam Tunuu, as well as English and Russian. As a master weaver, Shapsnikoff traveled extensively to communities all over Alaska to teach Unangax̂ basketry techniques.
Shapsnikoff was born on Attu but moved with her family to Unalaska in 1905, where she served as a nurse, teacher, church member, and community leader for most of her life. Before the federal government forcibly removed the Unangax̂ to Southeast Alaska during WWII, Shapsnikoff supervised the burial of most of the Unalaska church treasures, fearing that they would be looted or bombed. When she returned home after years of hardship in internment camps, her fears of damage to cultural heritage were confirmed. Shapsnikoff became a vocal critic of the continued presence of the US military in Unalaska, citing lack of respect and care for the land, waters, and people. She spoke with researchers and politicians in an effort to educate non-Native peoples on Unangax̂ history and culture.
Did you know Anfesia T. Shapsnikoff or have a story you’d like to share about her? Share your images and stories with us on Instagram and Facebook by tagging us (@anchoragemuseum and #ExtraToughWomenAK) and we’ll add them to our ongoing digital curation project. Stay tuned for more information about the upcoming exhibition and be sure to check back for new #ExtraToughWomenAK posts.
Credit: FIC Collection, Anchorage Museum, B1981.19.171